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April 2012

Mood Killers: Four Book-Throwing Offenses (and How to Avoid Them)

WritersdontcryYou knoRachel E. Morrisw what I’m talking about. We’ve all been there. You’re immersed, in the zone, and totally engaged. You can feel the damp stone, taste the stale air, hear the “drums, drums in the deep” . . . When suddenly, something banana yellow and comically out of place rips you out of the story and ruins it. You grimace, and try to start again, squinting to ignore that one part, struggling to not even think about it. But once there, the insidious mood killer gets under your skin. You keep waiting for it to reappear.  It’s like a stain on the whole book.

One of the main mistakes writers make here is assuming a captive audience. But readers aren’t captive—they’re captivated. And that is a state much easier lost than gained. Of course, it’s your book—you can do whatever you want. But think of the characters. And the readers. And the sound your book will make as it smashes against a wall and slides slowly to the floor, never to be picked up again . . .

It is a horrible sound. Trust me, you don’t want to hear it. So, what are these mood killers, and how do you avoid them? Glad you asked! I’ve collected four of my . . . erm, favorites here, along with ways to avoid them. Enjoy! And may your writing ever avoid the walls.

Your Darlings: You Know What to Do

Imagine this: you’re really digging the intensely romantic smolder your date has going on, when you suddenly realize they’re not actually looking at you: they’re checking themselves out in your glasses. Just as you realize this, they start flirting… with themselves. Take it from me: it doesn’t matter how smoking hot their smolder is, once it’s clear the only thing they’re into is themselves, it’s over.

Your darlings? Are the same thing. Allowing your darlings the luxury of life is giving into the temptations of self-infatuation. Sure, when you write for yourself, anything goes. Have at it. Indulge yourself. But when you write for an audience, don’t expose your darlings. Overworked turns of phrase, anachronistic or ill-timed witticisms, and out-of-character indulgences are the most common darlings. But the greatest offender by far is when  a writer--having spent countless hours creating a believable world brimming with life--feels the need to describe every leaf of every plant the hero passes, as well as what that leaf’s history is, what it can be used for, and what it symbolizes in the various cultures of the world.

Continue reading "Mood Killers: Four Book-Throwing Offenses (and How to Avoid Them)" »

Giada De Laurentiis visits Amazon - And Leaves a Recipe Behind

IMG_1695We're going to need a bigger room...

That's what one of my colleagues said to me as scores of Amazon employees began piling into a conference room one afternoon last week for a visit from Giada De Laurentiis, who was in Seattle to talk about her new book, Weeknights with Giada. One conference room wasn't nearly enough, so we had to create an overflow room with video feeds. Turns out Amazon follks really, really like Giada.

The Food Network star and perennial bestseller was charming and funny as she took questions from the audience. As per the subtitle of her new book--"quick and simple recipes to revamp dinner"--she shared a few tips on weeknight cooking: frozen foods are perfectly acceptable (edamame, peas, corn); always have canned tomato, tuna, and assorted pastas on hand; it's okay to have breakfast for dinner.

See more photos below, or visit our Facebook page. And give this recipe a try this week.

Arugula Pesto, Ricotta, and Smoked Mozzarella Pizza

Creamy ricotta cheese is the base for all the delicious flavors here, most notably smoked mozzarella, which really gives the pizza a pronounced taste and aroma. Arugula makes the ricotta mixture a nice green hue, and the sliced red tomatoes help make this pizza as beautiful as it is yummy. This is total comfort food.

Serves 4 to 6

  • Arugula pesto pizzaCornmeal, for dusting
  • ½ cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded smoked mozzarella cheese
  • 1 packed cup (1 ounce) arugula
  • Flour, for dusting
  • 1 (1-pound) ball store-bought pizza dough
  • Olive oil, for drizzling
  • 2 plum tomatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 475°F. Sprinkle a heavy baking sheet (without sides) with cornmeal.

In a food processor, blend the ricotta, garlic, salt, and pepper until smooth. Add the smoked mozzarella and arugula. Pulse until just combined but still chunky.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 14-inch circle, 1/4 to 1⁄8 inch thick. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Spread the ricotta mixture on top, leaving a 1-inch border. Arrange the tomato slices on top and drizzle with olive oil.

Bake for 15 to 16 minutes, until the crust is golden. Cut into wedges and serve.

(Reprinted from Weeknights with Giada by Giada De Laurentiis. Copyright © 2012. Photo copyright © 2012 by Amy Neunsinger. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.)




Who's in Charge Here?


With a a PhD in political science from Stanford University, Ian Bremmer knows a thing or two about international events and their effects on markets. His latest book, Every Nation for Itself, looks at the current state of the world and global leadership--or lack thereof--offering valuable insight for navigating the the rough and unpredictable seas of the 21st century.

Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World: Release 2.0, speaks to Bremmer about the "G-Zero" world and what uncertainty means to the United States and its future.

Fareed Zakaria: What is a G-Zero world, and how did we get here?

Ian Bremmer: The G-Zero is a world without effective, consistent leadership. It’s not the G7 world where Western industrialized powers set the agenda. It’s not a G20 world where developed and developing states find some way to work together on tough transnational problems. It’s a world where no can be counted either to pay the piper or call the tune.

I love the story in your book The Post American World, about Colin Powell making peace between Spain and Morocco over a disputed island in time to go swimming with his grandkids. I included a story in Every Nation for Itself about how Lyndon Johnson diverted about 20 percent of America’s wheat crop in 1965 to help India feed its people during a drought. The leadership capacity that these two stories illustrate isn’t what it used to be, and Europe has too many serious problems of its own to try to take up the slack. At the same time, we can’t expect emerging powers like China, India, Brazil, Turkey, Russia, or the wealthy Gulf monarchies to fill this vacuum because their governments have neither the bandwidth nor the desire to accept the risks and burdens that come with much greater international leadership.

Post_americanBut Every Nation for Itself is not about the shifting balance of international power. In fact, we can’t know what the longer-term future holds for America, Europe, China or any of these other countries. There are good reasons to bet on U.S. resilience, but that will depend on the quality of American leadership in years to come. The rest will continue to rise, but some of them will have more staying power than others.

We can forecast with great confidence, however, that the world has entered a period of transition, one in which global leadership will be in short supply. Every Nation for Itself is about that historic shift and the tremendous challenges and opportunities it will create--for the global economy, for relations between the world’s most powerful governments, and for the world’s ability to cope with a variety of what we might call “problems without borders.”

Continue reading "Who's in Charge Here?" »

How I Wrote It: Alice Hoffman, on Writing Anywhere

DoveOne of the best parts of this job is spending time with funny, thoughtful, and charming authors like Alice Hoffman. During her visit to Amazon awhile back, she discussed the research and writing of her very personal new novel, The Dovekeepers, based on the story of Masada, the fortress where 900 Jews committed suicide to avoid a Roman siege.

She also talked about her writing life, the hows and wheres of her work-a-day. "I don't work in an office anymore, I'm just portable," she said. "It doesn't matter where I work, as long as I don't have a window ... or a beautiful view. Because I want to go inside and not outside." Also interesting was learning how each book begins with a little fear.

"Every time I start a book I feel like I don't know how to write a book," she said. "And it's a process for me of relearning how to write a novel." Watch the video to learn more about The Dovekeepers.

(Our thanks to Tom Douglas and the staff at Cuoco restaurant.)

See all of Alice Hoffman's books.

Edgar Award Winners Announced, Including Best Novel: "Gone"

EdgarIn Mo Hayder's Gone, a carjacking is actually a kidnapping, potential clues lurk inside a tunnel, and almost nothing turns out to be what it seems to be. That's what the keepers of the Edgar Allen Poe spirit must be looking for each year when they (the Mystery Writers of America), in honor of Poe's birthday, dole out the prestigious Edgar Awards. Hayden's sinister and suspenseful Gone won the best novel award, and more than a dozen other winners were announced Thursday in New York, in such categories as best paperback original, best critical biographical, best short story, and best TV episode.

The full list of winners and nominees can be found here. Among them: 

GoneBest Novel

Best First Novel

Continue reading "Edgar Award Winners Announced, Including Best Novel: "Gone"" »

Ask Augusten Burroughs: Advice from a Man Who's Survived It All

Augusten-coverGot problems? Don't despair: Augusten Burroughs, ultimate survivor and writer of remarkable insight, has answered our call to author an "Ask Augusten Burroughs" advice column, here on Amazon's Omnivoracious blog on four Mondays in May. (See below for how to submit your questions.)

Burroughs turned his harrowing early life and its alcoholic aftermath into six harrowing, surprisingly uplifting memoirs, including Running with Scissors and Dry. He's had the courage to grab the wolves of his past by their foaming muzzles and peer into their wild eyes until he owns them, and because of this, he's survived pretty much every experience a person in a modern-day first-world country could face in the course of their life--and emerged as an astonishingly well-adjusted person.

Arriving on May 8, his new book--This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More, for Young and Old Alike (also available as a Kindle book)--departs from memoir into the transformative terrain self-help. Don't let the snake-oil-salesmannish title and cover put you off: this is practical advice for anyone facing the confounding chaos of living.

Want to ask Augusten how to tame your wolves? Here's how:

  • Now through May 1, email your questions to Omnivoracious. (Feel free to be anonymous and honest).
  • We'll compile the most interesting of the bunch and send them on to Augusten.
  • He'll choose his favorites to answer, and we'll post his replies here on Omnivoracious and on our Amazon Books Facebook page on May 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th. You'll also be able to find a link from the same page where you can buy the book.

In the meantime, he introduces his book in this video.

Last Chance to Vote for the Children's Choice Awards

Only one week left to vote for the Children's Choice Book Awards and over 500,000 votes are in but some of the finalists are neck and neck.   If you haven't voted yet, there is still have time to finish that last nominee on the nightstand and help pick the winnners of 2012--just get your vote in by May 3rd. 

Check back after the awards gala on May 7th, the kick off to Children's Book Week,  to find out who won.  Below is a refresher on the categories and finalists--which book will you vote for?

Kindergarten - Grade 2:

Grade 3 - Grade 4:

Grade 5 - Grade 6:


And don't forget to vote on the best author of the year and best illustrator of the year from the list of bestselling finalists.

What's It Like to Be a Bird? 'Bird Sense' Author Tim Birkhead Tells Us

Tim Birkhead's Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be A Bird was selected as one of our Best Books of the Month for April. Bird Sense "will pique the curiosity of anyone interested in how any creature's experience of the world is shaped by the body it inhabits," Amazon Books editor Mari Malcolm said in her review. Bird Sense went on sale this week, and Tim kindly offered this guest post - from the field.

Fiery-necked Nightjar Close-up incubating On the dry leaves in front of me lies a log-like little bird: a fiery-necked nightjar.

I’m in a Zambian woodland with shimmering light and an incessant screech of cicadas. Perfectly camouflaged, the bird remains motionless, allowing me to inspect it a close range. Huge half-shut eyes, a curious tiny beak with raised nostrils, but its most remarkable feature is a row of eight enormous, rigid whiskers along the top edge of its enormous mouth.

Why whiskers? Nightjars are nocturnal, roosting during the day and hunting at night. Their large eyes allow them too see in the dark - essential for avoiding trees and catching moths. So why whiskers? No-one knows. I’m amazed: five centuries of bird study and there are still things we know nothing about! There are several ideas. One is that the whiskers prevent the dust-like debris from the moth’s wings going into the bird’s eyes – but the whiskers are too far apart from that. Another idea is that when the nightjar opens its huge mouth the whiskers form a net-like extension that help to capture flying insects. A third possibility was revealed after we set up an infra-red camera at our bird’s nest.

Continue reading "What's It Like to Be a Bird? 'Bird Sense' Author Tim Birkhead Tells Us" »

Grace McCleen on Her "Land of Decoration" and Finding Music in Words

Land-of-decoration-coverThis spring, I became captivated by The Land of Decoration, a debut that made our list of the Top 10 Best Books of April. Grace McCleen's visionary novel (widely compared to Emma Donoghue's Room) grapples with immortal questions, especially for children raised in religious doctrines at odds with mainstream belief: how do you feel your way to the truth when faith blurs with madness, when pious parents may be oblivious to your pain, when your sense of Divine control dissolves? As I've watched the customer reviews roll in, it's been fascinating to see how the book resonates with readers on different levels, depending on their own childhood experience and beliefs.

Judith, a bright 10-year-old in a poor Welsh valley, gets bullied for her faith in the impending End Times, and her life with her devout widower father feels oppressively quiet. So (almost as an act of creative self-defense) she makes an intricate replica of her town within her room, expanding and populating a world made from candy wrappers, shoe laces, sticks, and other cast-off bits. Then she discovers that her actions in her miniature world give her miraculous abilities (to save or destroy) in the real one, and what seemed like the voice of God may be something more sinister.

McCleen's writing felt so visceral that I believed it must spring from an intensely imaginative spirit or the power of personal experience. Now I know it's the result of some miraculous combination of the two--and a rare talent.

Her website offered clues into the remarkable scope of her creativity, including beautiful paintings and sculpture, and a village of 140 little people she made "when I wasn't well and awake at night a lot." Her bio says she's "interested in sound, in the spiritual dimension, in miniature, and the natural world," all forces she unleashes in this book. I also found myself beguiled by her songs, amazed by her note that at the time she recorded them, "I thought I was going to lose my speech," a circumstance that makes her vocal poise all the more remarkable. The haunting "Preacher's Daughter" thematically overlaps The Land of Decoration.

I reached out to Grace to find out more about her experience with writing the book, and how her art and music inspire her writing, and vice versa. Here are the highlights.

 How did you first hear Judith’s voice—or did her story arise in part from your own life?

 The passage opening The Land of Decoration came from a long unworkable novel, out of the blue one day, and I asked myself who would be speaking, what their environment might be. I was very ill at the time, and every paragraph and page was a feat in itself. I think that struggle reveals itself in the depth of the emotion in places (which perhaps verges on the melodramatic), and the pedestrian, 'numb' prose in others, as I was feeling either numb or very great emotion.

Continue reading "Grace McCleen on Her "Land of Decoration" and Finding Music in Words" »

"Animal House" Exclusive Interview: New Book, New Stories and Visions of Broadway

Animal House, one of the most-loved movie comedies of all time, is hotter than ever. There’s a Broadway show in the works and a new, behind-the-scenes book called Fat, Drunk, & Stupid by producer Matty Simmons, who talks to us about what Hollywood first thought of the script (hated it!), what got cut, and why there was never a sequel.

Some highlights from the interview:

FatDrunkStupidBookOn getting the green light: My junior partner at the time was Ivan Reitman [who went on to make comedy classics including Ghostbusters] and we went into [Univeral Studios chief Ned] Tanen’s office and he said, “I hate this movie. Everyone’s drunk or having sex or getting beat up. Do you think you could make it for less than $3 million?" Now I had never made a movie. Ivan had made a couple of movies in Canada for about $8. I said, “Absolutely.” And I didn’t know what I was talking about. We made it for $2.8 million, and overall, everything in to date, it’s grossed about $600 million.

On the unforgettable audience response: We screened that movie in Denver … and at the end of that movie, the audience was standing on chairs and screaming and applauding and yelling. No one had seen anything like it. And then when they brought it back to Hollywood, they did a test screening and it got the highest rating in the then-history of the ratings system.

On getting Animal House to Broadway, with music by Barenaked Ladies: I had the idea about four or five years ago and it took me that long to convince Universal to do it, because they own the rights. They said, “Well, if you bring in the right team.” So I brought in a top Broadway producer, who many years ago was my publicity man and has since won about six Tonys (Jeff Richards), and the director of the Book of Mormon, the hottest show on Broadway (Casey Nicholaw).

Read more on the Amazon Studios Hollywonk blog.